Georgia Board of Education changes way public schools teach English

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Overhaul in standards follows legislation pushing for phonics, ‘science of reading’

Georgia’s public school teachers will be focusing more on phonics and other approaches to teaching English that are supported by a vast body of research known as the “science of reading” after the state overhauled teaching standards on Thursday.

The Georgia Board of Education approved 164 pages of new standards for English language arts after a monthslong process that involved more than 300 teachers and input from more than 14,000 survey respondents. It’s the first major rewrite since 2015, and is expected to influence questions on the state-standardized Milestones tests by the 2025-26 school year.

State lawmakers have been frustrated by student performance in English. Just 36% of third graders scored proficient or better on the 2022 Milestones tests for English language arts, which measure reading and writing. Third grade is considered the year reading becomes crucial for future academic success.

The rewrite was already underway last year, but dissatisfaction with the first draft led to more discussion, pushing the process into this year. The Department of Education was still gathering input when lawmakers issued their own edicts about phonics and other strategies for teaching English, passing legislation to require an overhaul of local curricula and also of teacher training based on the science of reading.

Gov. Brian Kemp signed the legislationHouse Bill 538 and Senate Bill 211 — into law in April, and education officials said their new standards reflect what’s in those laws.

“You have my guarantee that we’re ready to go,” said State School Superintendent Richard Woods, leader of the state Education Department.

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

The standards define what students should understand and be able to do by the end of each grade, from kindergarten through high school.

Two educator groups filed letters in support of the new standards.

Amy Fouse, president of the Georgia Language Arts Supervisors, said the new standards represent “the voices of Georgia educators from every part of the state,” and will give students more chances to “meaningfully practice the integrated nature of literacy skills.”

Teachers will begin training for the new standards next school year before teaching them in their classrooms in the fall of 2025. Implementation will cost money, noted state school board member Scott Sweeney.

“I’m not in opposition to making improvements where improvements are needed, but at the same time, the cost in training, the cost in professional development, the cost in resources and everything else is a cycle that we continually repeat,” he said, adding sardonically: “It’s almost as if there is an industry built up around this.”

Are you a Georgia parent or teacher or someone else affected by the state’s new direction with literacy? We’d like to know what you think of the changes and what you’re seeing in your schools now. Please also tell us if you’d like to be interviewed. Email us at:

What it means in the classroom

Georgia’s new English language arts standards are meant to align with new state laws that require public schools to teach reading and writing based on a vast body of research referred to as the “science of reading.” It requires more phonics than before, and in a more coordinated fashion across grade levels.

In kindergarten, for example, students are expected to begin learning about “phoneme-grapheme” correspondences, which are the building blocks of words and their representations in writing.

By first grade, students will be taught about digraphs, or the blending of letters to make sounds, and they will be taught about the effect of ending a word with the letter “e.”

Second graders will graduate to diphthongs (the vowel sound in “hound”).

In third grade, students will begin using graphemes to “decode” and “encode” (read and write) words — work that will continue through fifth grade.

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